Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I have received a letter from the honourable member for Rankin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:
The Government's lack of a plan to turn our economy around.
I call upon all those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
In recent months, there has been no shortage of indicators that the Australian economy, under those opposite, is struggling. But perhaps the most reliable indicator—the thing that really gives us in this place a sense of how badly the Australian economy is performing on their watch—is the amount of time that they dedicate in question time to talking about the Labor Party. There has not been, in the history of this Commonwealth, a third-term Australian government which has spent more time obsessing over its opponents than this one. How humiliating for those opposite—having come through the election in May, having won a third term and now being in their seventh year—to spend all of their time talking about the Labor Party. When the Australian people—Australian workers and families and pensioners—need a government focused on wages and growth and jobs, instead they've got a government focused on Labor, Labor, Labor. And that's not good enough.
The economy is floundering and people are struggling; the IMF is slashing its forecasts for Australian growth—all for one reason: those opposite don't have a plan to turn the economy around. The weakest growth in the last decade is an inevitable consequence of a government with a political strategy but not an economic policy. We saw the consequences of that last night when the IMF shaved one-fifth off the growth expectations for this country for this year. But it's not just the IMF. The OECD has downgraded its forecasts. The Reserve Bank has downgraded its forecast. All of them, since the election, have slashed their expectations for the pace of growth in this Australian economy.
The economy has deteriorated substantially since those opposite were re-elected in May—since they wandered around the country pretending that they were good at managing the economy, when the facts tell a very different story. What we're discovering now is that no amount of blame-shifting or finger-pointing or buck-passing can obscure these basic facts about the economy: since the GFC, the slowest growth in 10 years; the worst wages growth on record; declining productivity and living standards; record household debt; the worst business investment since the early 1990s recession. I can go on and on and on about this.
Amongst the many conclusions that we can draw about the underperformance of the Australian economy, one really jumped out at me today when I was listening to the so-called Treasurer in question time earlier on. There has never been in this country a bigger gap between the Treasurer's own stupendous self-regard and his actual performance in the role of Treasurer. There has never been a bigger gap between those things.
Mr Perrett interjecting—
As the member for Moreton reminds me, the flattest tyre needs the most air. When you think of that saying, you think of the Treasurer of Australia. It's dawning on Treasurer Frydenberg now that all the skills that made him the Treasurer in the first place—all the networking, all the backbench stuff, all the pestering of journalists—doesn't matter a cracker when the economy is slowing as it is. He doesn't have a clue how to turn things around and that's why he doesn't have a plan to turn things around.
The IMF rang the alarm bells on the Australian economy, but those opposite are too out of touch to hear them. This is a government which is long on excuses but short on a plan, and in question time today we heard every excuse in the book. We heard that they anticipated this growth slowdown, despite the fact that the budget numbers in April were substantially higher than the outcomes that we are getting. We heard that it was all about global factors, despite the fact that the IMF's downgrade for Australia is four times bigger than its downgrade for the other advanced economies as a whole, and despite the fact that the Reserve Bank, Deloitte and others have said that our problems are homegrown, on the watch of those opposite.
We heard from the Treasurer, remarkably, that the drought is now apparently the No. 1 call on the Commonwealth budget. When you look at his own budget papers—and there's a neat little pie graph in there about where taxpayers' money is actually spent—I think the Treasurer saying that the drought all of a sudden is the No. 1 call on the budget would be news to the minister for social security. It would be news to the Minister for Health, the Minister for Education and the Minister for Defence. Really, it would be news to almost all of the ministers over there that, all of a sudden, drought is the No. 1 call on the Commonwealth budget. We heard all kinds of excuses from those opposite. They are long on excuses and they are short on a plan.
As I said at the outset, we know that the economy is struggling and we know that the government are struggling, because they spend all their time talking about us. Right on cue, in question time, there was the 'human highlighter', the Treasurer, the guy who sits around—he's now conceded that he sits around in his office reading my old transcripts and my old speeches; he's now admitted as much. The 'human highlighter', there he is, poring over these transcripts, making these B-grade memes while the economy flounders and people are struggling. While the economy is floundering and Australians are struggling—stagnant wages, record household debt—this guy, the Treasurer of Australia, spends his time with the little yellow highlighter out, poring over the transcripts of those of us on this side of the House.
In his private moments, I suspect he doesn't have many moments of reflection, but, if he does, perhaps he could reflect that maybe the reason why the Australian economy is performing so badly on his watch is that he spends all of his time focused on us here on this side of the parliament and none of his time focused on the Australian people and their economy and their country. That's what we need and expect from the Treasurer. We expect him and the Prime Minister to come clean on their role and to take responsibility, for once, for the fact that they are overseeing the slowest growth in 10 years and to take some responsibility for the fact that the challenges in our economy are primarily homegrown. There is some international turbulence, of course there is, but the fact that they don't have a plan to deal with our domestic challenges leaves Australia dangerously and unnecessarily exposed to some of that turbulence that we are seeing around the world.
As I said before, the Australian people want those opposite focused on wages. They want them focused on jobs and household debt. They want them focused on economic growth. Whatever they are doing right now is not working. We hear the Prime Minister and the Treasurer trying to retrofit whatever their most recent ideological obsession is as if all of a sudden that's part of some plan to turn the economy around. If that's their plan to turn the economy around, it's not working. All we're asking for, all we're proposing and suggesting in good faith, is that whatever is currently in the economy in terms of interest rate cuts and tax cuts, which we supported, is not currently enough to shift the needle on economic growth. The economy is badly underperforming.
The disappointing thing is that, with all of the things that have changed and deteriorated since the election, all the ways that the economy has gone down since the election, all of this data we've had about household debt and growth and wages and jobs, with 1.9 million Australians looking for work or for more work—all of that has changed; all of that has deteriorated, but the government's policies have not changed. All we're calling on those opposite to do is to take responsibility for it and to come up with a plan, because whatever they've been doing so far has been insufficient. They have proven that, when the economy is floundering, sitting on your hands, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is not good enough for the Australian people. The Australian people deserve better than the kind of hands-off approach that they're getting from those opposite.
There is a lot of anxiety in the community. We know it. All of us see it at the mobile offices on Saturdays. We are all engaged with our communities, and people say to us that they're worried about their jobs. They're worried about their kids' jobs and they're worried about the fact that no matter how hard they work they just can't seem to keep up with the costs of child care, energy or private health insurance. We understand that. We feel that very deeply. Our responsibility in this building is to make the best decisions and the best judgements about the economic circumstances and to actually do something about them in the interests of the Australian people, in the interests of workers, pensioners, families and people right around Australia—not just in parts of Australia but in every single corner of Australia. That's where those opposite are really derelict in their duty to the Australian people. We all hope that the economy picks up, but hoping is not enough.
Hoping is not a strategy, as the member for Greenway says. It's not a strategy, and a strategy is what we need. We need less of the political games and less of the Prime Minister wandering into the New South Wales party convention and saying that his highest priority is to come up with legislation which is hard for Labor to support, as he did a few weeks ago.
Wedgislation, as the member for Moreton says. That shouldn't be the highest priority of a government when the economy is slowing, as it is, and people are struggling, as they are. So we call on the government to change course when it comes to the economy—not to throw the kitchen sink at this or jeopardise the surplus, but to do something responsible to fund a proper plan to turn this economy around. Whatever they are doing right now isn't working. We see that in the IMF numbers overnight, in the OECD, and in the Reserve Bank cutting rates to less than one per cent for the first time ever in the history of this country. It's time to change course. It's time to take responsibility. Those opposite should have a plan to deal with an economy which is floundering on their watch.
Well, dear oh dear! I think both sides of the chamber here can sense that there's something a little bit lacklustre about the opposition at the moment. I don't know whether it's because the opposition leader isn't performing the way they might have expected or whether it's because they don't seem to be able to land any new policy positions or indeed jettison any of their old policy positions, given how hopelessly divided they are. But, regardless of the reason, the evidence here is that, out of all of the topics they could have chosen to speak about today, the very best they could come up with was to talk the economy down. They are talking the economy down.
The economic brains trust of the Labor Party, such as it is, no longer officially includes Wayne Swan. He left, presumably on a high, after delivering Australia a record debt and precisely none of the four economic surpluses he announced on that fateful starry night. The brains trust probably no longer includes the member for McMahon now either. His star was waning after he invited the Australian people not to vote for the Labor Party if they didn't like all of their new and higher taxes, and we know that many people followed that advice.
Yet the legacy of Wayne Swan lives on, and the legacy of the member for McMahon lives on, embodied in the supposedly rising star of the member for Rankin over there. I think it was so relevant that the member for Rankin chose to speak, in his presentation just before this, on the topic of self-regard, because the member for Rankin was policy adviser and chief of staff to Wayne Swan. He was sitting at Swanny's knee, presumably giving him all of that helpful advice about how to blow the budget, and about the carbon tax, the mining tax, the school halls, the pink batts scheme and all of the other bright ideas they came out with in that period. The member for Rankin was also next to the member for McMahon in the lead-up to the last election, as Labor announced their retirement tax, their housing tax and their family business taxes. The member for Rankin said that he was proud of those policies and that he was pleased with them.
I don't want to give too much advice to the opposition on economic policy, but I did hear something very relevant on the weekend. It was when the Prime Minister noted that sometimes we can apply the 'George Costanza principle' to the economic advice and economic policies of Wayne Swan and the Labor Party. In other words, when the opposition; the Labor president, Wayne Swan; or his acolyte, the member for Rankin, is saying something, that is a pretty strong argument that you should do the opposite.
Opposition members interjecting—
In contrast—and I'll take the interjections from those opposite—our government has a strong plan for our economy, which is well known and which was voted on and strongly endorsed by the Australian people at the recent election.
It's a remarkable achievement that Australia is now in its 29th consecutive year of annual economic growth. Despite the challenges in the world economy, our government is delivering more jobs, lower taxes, better funding for infrastructure and essential services, and a budget that is returning to surplus.
On jobs and growth, thanks to our government's steady economic management, the Australian economy is continuing to grow, with employment growth more than twice the OECD average and about 300,000 additional jobs created in 2018-19. Job-creating policies are a big part of our government's economic plan.
On infrastructure spending, we're delivering an unprecedented transport infrastructure investment pipeline of $100 billion over the next decade that'll bust congestion and create thousands of jobs as it helps to boost our economy. That infrastructure boom—this record spending—is also a big part of our economic plan. We're striking city and regional deals to build the future of our cities and regions. This includes the City Deal for South East Queensland, which encompasses the Brisbane electorate I represent.
We're delivering lower taxes to hardworking Australians by providing $158 billion in tax relief in this year's budget, on top of the $144 billion in tax cuts legislated in last year's Personal Income Tax Plan. These tax cuts are a big part of our economic plan, as is the tax relief that we've been providing to small and family businesses—and I would note that the speech just before by the member for Rankin did not once mention the importance of small businesses when it comes to Australia's economy. We're backing those small and family businesses—
Ms Kearney interjecting—
through tax relief and by increasing and expanding access to the instant asset write-off. We're backing businesses to invest, grow and employ more workers. We're guaranteeing essential services, strengthening Medicare—
Ms Kearney interjecting—
funding more hospitals services and providing more affordable medicines—again, all part of our economic plan. The strong economic plan that our government is delivering is continuing to deliver jobs, growth and prosperity.
I know those opposite wish—are pleading, in fact—that people around Australia and in this chamber stop thinking about and talking about their policies. My advice to those opposite is: if you want people to stop talking about your policies and criticising your policies, get some better policies. I'm going to ignore their pleas.
I want to consider for a moment the verdict delivered by the Australian people on the plan that Labor took to the last election. We know what was at the heart of that plan: retiree taxes, housing taxes and a plan to make every Australian pay more for electricity. In fact, we know a lot more after the election than we did before about what even those opposite think about the economic policies they have on offer. In the immortal words of the member for Corio, Labor's plan was all about 'handouts rather than hope'. As the member for Hunter astutely put it, 'Somewhere along the way Labor stopped talking to its blue-collar base.' We also now know that Labor had some quite hidden economic policies, involving cash stuffed into Aldi shopping bags and cardboard boxes.
Opposition members interjecting—
Maybe, over the interjections, those opposite could clarify whether those bags of cash constitute their fiscal policies or their monetary policies.
But it gets even better. It now seems that the opposition have more policies than they know what to do with—their policy cup floweth over. Barely a week goes by when we don't hear another one of the members opposite come forward to make a headland speech proposing to drag their party in a bold new direction. I suspect the member for Rankin offers such a plan. The member for Hunter certainly has such a plan; he is calling for a 'sensible settlement' with the government. And their former leader, the member for Maribyrnong, has also helpfully added, in terms of his plan:
If Labor didn't change some of its points of view then that would be showing that we hadn't learned the lessons from the election.
All of these wannabe Labor leaders, including the member for Rankin opposite, have been running around the country delivering these headland speeches. No headland in Australia, it seems, will be safe whenever the opposition leader either is out of the country or turns his back.
In the meantime, the government is getting on with the job. We are implementing our economic plan. We are managing the economy. We are delivering record spending on infrastructure. We are delivering those city and regional deals. We are delivering record funding on essential services. And we are creating the jobs, the growth and the prosperity that this country desperately needs and is receiving. If the member for Rankin and those opposite say that they don't know about our government's plan then I suppose it just proves the point, fundamentally, that they're not paying attention to what's happening in this place. They're not paying attention to the results of the recent election.
Ms Murphy interjecting—
They're not paying attention to what the Australian people have recently told them. They are only focused on their own woes, their own division and their own leadership jostling. That is one big reason why the opposition is so lacklustre in the parliament today, and this week. Quite frankly, Australia deserves better.
I'm going to begin with a bit advice for the member for Brisbane: when you're debating, you're meant to argue against the argument that is being put by those opposite. You're not meant to make the argument for those people who have been arguing against you. You just spent the whole of your speech arguing about what Labor's been doing, exactly making the point made by the member for Rankin that your government has no plan whatsoever and that all you are interested in is going through Labor Party transcripts and arguing about what the Labor Party has done, rather than developing a plan for this nation. The second bit of advice for the member for Brisbane is: you wouldn't criticise the member for Rankin for being the former chief of staff to the former Treasurer when you were the former chief of staff to none other than Peter Dutton—the guru on leadership challenges in the Australian parliament. I don't think it helps your argument.
The Australian people are working the hardest that they ever have done, but they feel like they're going backwards. Australian farmers are dealing with one of the worst droughts in history. Australian workers are falling further behind, with their wages not keeping up with the pace of the cost of living. Small businesses have been devastated by the falls in consumption and the business confidence slumps that we've seen in recent times. Businesses simply aren't investing in growth anymore, because of the uncertainty that's being created by this government around energy policy and because of their lack of a plan for growth.
There is a malaise in productivity in this country, and, instead of talking about capital deepening, we are actually in a situation where we have capital shallowing in Australia. Pensioners and seniors are really struggling with low interest rates, the lowest that they've ever been, and dealing with high electricity prices. To put it as a sentence, Australia is in a bad way. Australia is in a bad way at the moment, and the Morrison government aren't listening and don't care. That's the thing that hurts the Australian people the most: they do not care. They won the election and went on holidays. They're asleep at the wheel and don't have a plan to assist the Australian public and the economy—to get out of the rut that they're in.
The Prime Minister said in question time: 'Everything's okay. Everything's all right. We should stay cool and calm.' Let me tell you, the young man that I met in Pagewood last week when I was doing a bit of doorknocking who just lost his job is not cool and calm at the moment. In fact, he's quite worried about how he's going to pay the rent and make ends meet. In Hillsdale last week, the member for Maribyrnong and I met with parents of children with profound disability who are dealing with NDIS problems because the Morrison government has underspent on the NDIS by $4 billion and has a cap on staff within this particular scheme. It's probably one of the most immoral policy stances that I've seen in my time in this parliament. Let me tell you, they're not cool and calm. They're not cool and calm at all. In fact, they're quite angry about the way that this government is managing a disability system that was put in place to help their kids, not make life worse for them. That anger turns to rage when they ring up the National Disability Insurance Agency and they're told by the staff over the phone, 'Don't you know that this is taxpayers' dollars that you're asking for?' What an insult to those parents who are dealing with kids with disabilities and trying to get help from the NDIS. Let me tell you that the retiree I spoke to in Maroubra who, because most of his savings are in cash, is struggling with low interest rates is not cool and calm. In fact, he's quite worried about his future and whether or not he is going to have to drop onto the age pension because he's not making his savings grow whatsoever.
These situations are not peculiar to my electorate; they are happening across the country. Yet this government does not have a plan to assist these Australians, all over this country, who are struggling. They're worried, they're frustrated and they have lost faith in this government to deal with the challenges of this economy. There's a Prime Minister who is not listening and who has no plan to fix the economy and turn things around. We saw that overnight, with the IMF again downgrading Australia's growth forecast. It is a warning to the Australian government to fix the issues with the Australian economy at the moment, to provide some stimulus, to get wages growing again and to get the economy growing again. But, once again, this Morrison government is not listening. It is asleep at the wheel.
I feel compelled, after such eloquence, to make a contribution to this debate! I thank the member for Rankin for raising this critical issue, the member for Kingsford Smith for his eloquence and of course the member for Brisbane for being the only sensible one in this entire debate thus far. I made a new year's resolution that I was going to be a kinder, gentler person in this term of parliament and that I would deal with ideas, not people. But, seriously, is the member for Rankin, the former chief of staff to 'Swanny', the architect of the four surplus budgets—a tragedy that deserves its own orchestra—coming before us and lecturing us about the economy? He, of course, has a PhD. How does it feel to be not even in the top 10 economists on that side of the House? He has a PhD in Paul Keating, the man who gave us 'the recession we had to have' and who had our credit rating downgraded. Lucifer himself could not create the temptation that the member for Rankin creates every time he stands up and lectures this House about economic management! Then, of course, a speech that was meant to be entertaining just became like that low-level droning that you get when you go to the dentist. His best line actually came from repeating the interjection from the member for Moreton.
This is what Labor have left us. They can't even come up with a good attack point. No wonder that, when we took over in 2013, there was a $387 billion deficit, growth was at 0.7 per cent and we had the lowest level of workforce participation in a generation. If that was the best that they've got, no wonder that that was what we faced when we came into government. In comparison to that, we now have an economy with a AAA credit rating that has been taken off negative watch. We have balanced budgets that will be in surplus. Jobs are up and dependency is down. The number of free trade agreements is rising and taxes are going down. That's what has happened under the Morrison government; that's what has happened under the Liberal Party. Unlike those opposite, we believe that people deserve to keep more of what they earn. Those opposite believe that it's their money and they're just letting the people keep it.
The IMF report that was handed down overnight makes the point that global growth is going to go down and has been trending down for some time. It makes it clear that the reason for that is the trade war between China and the United States. Does it really surprise those opposite that Australia's growth rate is hit harder than that of other nations in the global economy, given our exposure to the Chinese economy, given that our export sector is so dependent upon the Chinese economy? What this government has been doing—and this is something that those opposite could never do in a lifetime—is diversifying who we trade with, through free trade agreements with other nations. We have been ensuring that the risks that the Australian economy face are actually turned down. But do they thank us? No. They wouldn't even understand what we've been doing.
This is the 28th year of economic expansion in Australia. Those opposite wouldn't know anything about that whatsoever. Our plan is to increase economic freedom. Our plan is to increase economic hope. Our plan is to increase economic opportunity. The plan of those opposite is simply to increase taxes. That's all they want to do.
We've created over a million new jobs and we are going to continue to create more jobs. We are going to put at the heart of this economy the people, not their mates in the trade union movement and not their mates in industry super. We are going to make sure that there is consumer protection for people buying financial products and buying goods and services. We are going to allow companies to compete. For small companies we are going to reduce the barriers to entry and allow those companies to be the most competitive small businesses in the world—whether it be through lower corporate taxes or the increased instant asset write-off. Labor's answer to all of this is to panic and, no doubt, to have a new round of subsidised pink batts.
I've sat here and listened to the contributions from the member for Mackellar, the member for Brisbane and, during question time, the Prime Minister and the Treasurer. The one thing I noticed is that not once did any of them mention a single constituent. None of them mentioned a single person in their electorate. Instead, they talked about Labor. They're obsessed with Labor. Somebody mentioned the yeti. SpongeBob SquarePants might have also got a mention. Lucifer got a mention. Not a single person has spoken about their constituents and the impact that this government's lack of an economic plan is having on the real people we are here to represent. Every single member on that side is here to represent their constituents. Stand up and talk on their behalf. Stand up for them. Stand up for the people who come to your offices. I know that constituents come to your offices, because they come to my office and tell me the same thing. Stand up for the people who are having to choose between buying medicine and buying food. Stand up for the kids in schools that are now having to put on breakfast clubs. Stand up for the families. In one month, 6,000 families in my electorate alone accessed a food bank. Stand up for those people. But you won't. Instead, you want to come in here and say that we're causing panic and misrepresenting the economy.
The IMF has downgraded the economy; Deloitte Access Economics has talked about slow economic growth. The member for Rankin went through all those, but I also want to point to the Harvard review, which says:
Australia ranks as the 93rd most complex country in the Economic Complexity Index (ECI) ranking. Compared to a decade prior, Australia's economy has become less complex, worsening 22 positions in the ECI ranking.
As a result of this less complex economy, which is less complex than expected for our income level, the economy is projected to grow slowly—to grow slowly!—at a rate of 2.2 per cent annually over the next few years. It's clear from the evidence, not just anecdotally, not just from the people who are coming to our offices—the people who we are charged to represent, the people who we are charged to help, to assist, to stand up here and speak on behalf of. It's not just clear from that anecdotal evidence; it's clear from the evidence that's coming from the experts, from the economists. And it's also coming from the Reserve Bank: interest rates are at all-time lows of less than one per cent. Interest rates are at an all-time low, and what is this government doing? They're sitting on their hands and expecting the Reserve Bank to do all the heavy lifting without any fiscal policy to back it up.
Let me tell you the impact that this has—the real impact that all of this has—on the people of Cowan. There is mortgage stress. I've got families in my electorate who are suffering from mortgage stress. The income tax relief that they've been given and the lowering of the interest rates that they've been given have not improved their standard of living, because they are being used to pay down household debt. They're not lining up to buy big-screen TVs, they're not lining up to stimulate the retail sector and they're not lining up to stimulate the economy, because they are drowning in household debt. That is because their wages have not increased, and that is because this government will not do anything to stimulate the economy—because this government has given up on the Australian people, who they were elected to represent.
I'm really, really angry about this. I was thinking about this speech and thinking, 'Don't get angry; don't get angry,' but I've got to tell you that every time I'm out there at a shopping centre doing a 'meet your member', I have people lined up—lined up! They are people like Sue, who, as soon as she got the opportunity to sit down with me, broke down in tears. She broke down in tears! You're all shaking your heads over there on the other side, like this is some fairytale. Why don't you go out and talk to your constituents, because I'm pretty sure you've got a Sue in your electorate too. I'm pretty sure you've got a Sue in your electorate who's going through the same thing. Stand up and do your job! The election's over. Stop talking about us!
I have to admit, with all respect to the member for Rankin, I'm a bit perplexed about the topic that we're talking about today as a matter of public importance. The government's lack of a plan to turn our economy around? I'm not entirely sure where the member or those on the opposite side have been for the last three to six months, because, as far as I know, as far as I've been aware, we have been talking about an economic plan since the budget this year and since the election—the election at which the Morrison government was elected. The people voted. They had the economic plan put in front of them, and they voted to put the government in place.
Our plan, which has been articulated, at length, for the last six months—I'm not going to speak about Labor's plan, because, frankly, I don't know what it is—is about stimulating the economy and creating jobs. It's about making sure that the economy has all the settings for the creation of jobs. There is the reduction of income tax so that people can keep more of their hard-earned money and spend it in the way that they choose to. Our plan is to increase exports—to actively engage with more international partners so that we can increase our exports and benefit our economy. Our plan is to reduce red tape. Just like the member for Cowan, I go out and meet with members in my electorate as well, and many of those small and medium-sized business enterprises—which I will get back to soon—complain about the red tape. It is the red tape and the green tape that is killing them, in terms of creating jobs and in terms of their particular industries.
We are investing in skills and apprenticeships. We are spending $100 billion in infrastructure. We have outlined these initiatives, at length, for the last six months. So I do find it perplexing, and, quite frankly, I find it frustrating—I also understand why the Australian public are finding it increasingly frustrating—that in our political environment people are not listening or engaging with each other. We have put our plan out. We would have much more respect if, perhaps, we had from Labor a criticism of our plan, or an alternative plan suggested—but we don't. We get an MPI that says there is no plan. There is a plan; it's been out there for ages.
There is one part of the plan that I particularly want to focus on, because it is very important for the people in my electorate, who I engage with quite a lot, and that is with respect to what we are doing for small and medium-sized businesses. There are over three million small and medium-sized businesses in Australia. There are 356,000 in my state of Western Australia, with 26,000 of those in my electorate of Curtin. In fact, 99 per cent of the businesses in Western Australia are small to medium-sized businesses. Over 7.7 million Australians are employed by small to medium-sized businesses. In Western Australia—the state that the member for Cowan and I come from—647,000 people are employed in small and medium-sized businesses. They are the backbone of our economy, and this government gets that.
As part of our plan to stimulate the economy and keep our economy strong we have introduced a number of new initiatives. Two key initiatives are the increase in the instant asset write-off and the plan to reduce taxes on small to medium-sized businesses. In recent weeks I've visited a number of small businesses in my electorate. One of those businesses was a beautiful florist in Wembley, the Manic Botanic florist. The owner of that enterprise, Julie, had recently used the instant asset write-off to purchase a new fridge for storing flowers. Julie was delighted with the instant asset write-off. Similarly, my local cafe used the instant asset write-off to buy new machinery. This initiative is cutting red tape.
People in my electorate know the plan of this government; they voted for the plan of this government. Sure, like anybody else, they get concerned. They get more alarmed when they're continually told they need to get alarmed. But people in my electorate know that this government has got a plan, is delivering on that plan and that it's great for Australia.
I just wanted to start by thanking the shadow Treasurer for this resolution. When you get to hump day, you need something to help you over, and I will never get bored of watching the other side choke on their own rage when you challenge them on the economy—because they're the born-to-rulers who always say that they're the best at managing the economy. How dare you challenge them on that!
There was no better expression of that choking on your own rage than the contribution from the member for Mackellar, that shouty contribution. It was a speech delivered in caps lock. The entire speech was delivered in caps lock, yelling at us the whole time, asking how we could conceivably even talk about the shadow Treasurer's matter of public importance, and going through what we've done. The reality is that when you look at what they're doing on that side of the House, they ain't doing much. Except for what the shadow Treasurer has pointed out: we're seeing all these downgrades, we're seeing all these bad stats, and we're seeing the RBA say, 'Do something; we can only do so much. The government has got to do something.' But what do we get out of the coalition? We have reviews aplenty—look at how many reviews we've got! They're busy little beavers—all these little reviews.
Well, I've got to say, Deputy Speaker, this government is dependent on props. Their biggest prop is a review, because every time there's a problem there's a review that comes as a result of it. You can't have a plan for a plan. You can't have a review as an exercise in trying to demonstrate activity. What people need to see out in the real world is not another inquiry or review. Mind you, do you know who chipped them on this review obsession? Those great left-wing activists Jeff Kennett and Campbell Newman, who called on governments to wrest back control from the bureaucrats because the government's not doing its own job.
So growth has slowed down. Living standards are going backwards. The government keep talking about how many people are in work, but, when you ask people in work, 'Are you happy with how much you're working and how much you're getting for that?' what do they say? They're not. They are not getting wage increases at all. They're not getting the hours that they need. At the same time, businesses aren't expressing confidence at all. In fact, if you ask the CEOs if they're going to provide a pay increase, even Treasury said that 40 per cent of the CEOs interviewed would not provide a pay increase. What are those CEOs spending it on? They're not investing in business, because business investment is tanking. So the businesses don't have confidence. No-one's getting a wage increase. What's happening with consumer confidence? Consumer confidence is tanking as well.
We can certainly see the Treasurer is very active. He's very active at promoting himself, I might say. He has turned that into an art form. What we would love to see is him tapping some of that energy into something remotely looking like an economic plan—not a political plan or a media plan but a plan to actually help people get a pay increase, a plan that will see businesses invest, a plan that will result in higher consumer confidence and a plan that will see us get out of the mire that we find ourselves in because those opposite got elected and didn't have a plan. They can talk about 'The Plan', with a capital T and a capital P, as the member for Curtin kept going on about. When you ask them about that, what does it comprise? They can't even explain it.
Let me just tell you this: they work so hard against Labor, whatever we've put forward, but then they slowly walk their way towards what we're saying. Mark my words. We argued that the tax cuts should be brought forward. We argued for that. They said no; they wouldn't to do it. But they're walking towards it. We argued for infrastructure investment to be brought forward. They said, 'No, no, no, it can't happen.' The Treasurer is now out asking the states, 'What projects have you got that we can bring forward?' They don't have a plan of their own. They're completely dependent on us putting forward those ideas. The only other form of momentum from them is to attack us. The Australian public deserve better than a political plan and media spin. Get the economy moving. Do your job.
I think what the Australian people would like to think is that some of the best ideas from both sides of this chamber could lead to a more confident Australian domestic economy. Today I want to talk about some of the international context that explains why we're in some fairly tough times; give a bit of detail about how the states are going; and, finally, explain the responsible measures that we in this government have taken to respond in real time, and how the best thing we can do to compare what the other side would have done in government is to look at how they fared in 2008-09, during the GFC. I'll look at some of the decisions that they made to give us some idea of exactly what they would have done, had they been in government, because the most instructive thing of all, of course, is to see how this lot acted when they had control of the economy.
First of all, I want to talk about the quiet reality that we have a Sino-American trade war. That's going to make it tough times for virtually every developed and developing economy. It's in that context, I think, that Australians voted on 18 May. Faced with two choices in a two-party democratic system, they went, ultimately, almost at the last minute of the election campaign, with the party they can most trust to make tough calls.
Politically, running a surplus budget is very important to Australians. Just like their households—they know that they have to run to a budget. They want to think that, federally, we can do the same thing, particularly in the context of Labor state governments that over time have basically spent down to the limits of the credit card, to the point where to spend an extra dollar would lead to a collapse in the credit rating. So states like Queensland just sit on that very familiar number—I see a head nodding on our side—of around $80 to $90 billion of state debt. Isn't it refreshing to know that, despite that chaos, there's a federal government that has brought the budget back into balance? We have done it through tough measures. We've done it with almost no cooperation from the other side over the last six years.
You can understand it is very important to Australians that, unlike those on that side, we on this side actually do what we say. When we talk about a balanced budget, we are absolutely determined to deliver it. Having said that, there are some important concepts around it. People are doing it tough. Australians know that's happening. If you have got a job, you hold onto it. Finding a job is hard work, but it can be done. Most of the jobs being created are full-time. That has been mostly due to the federal government policies of the last six years. We have been working assiduously to find every opportunity for Australians to leave welfare and get back into work. That's not an easy path. It's a path the other side abdicated during their 2007 to 2013 period. If you got on welfare, you stayed on welfare. That was the approach. We are not to going to brook that; we won't fall back into that habit. For every Australian of working age who is healthy enough to work, we will work to find them a job. It's going to be damn hard to do but we will find a way—for example, through the PaTH program, by helping youth leave school to find an opportunity. Even for the refugees coming to Australia, we are tailor-making arrangements so that when they land they have economic opportunities.
What would the other side do, were they to be in government? Back in the GFC era of '08, for a moment there was a blinding flash of light when both the government and the coalition agreed it was time to stimulate. You will remember: it had to be temporary and targeted. Remember, it was about who you targeted and it had to be timely. Congratulations to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who acted fast. The first tranche of that stimulus was supported by both sides of parliament as we gave payments to pensioners. But in '09, as soon as Treasury indicated that the GFC was effectively over and that the dip in our GDP growth had already ended, even at that point, there was no temporary notion about Labor spending. What you need to know is: whenever you vote a Labor Party in, the only way out of the debt they create will be taxation by a subsequent government, who will have to make the hard calls. We on this side have been making them for six years; Labor has opposed them at every step. But I can tell you one thing, when Labor inherit a surplus, it is gone within 12 months and they just keep spending. They spend money and give it out to their mates, and it is mostly not in economic infrastructure; it is in social infrastructure. There is nothing wrong with social infrastructure but, ultimately, you need to have a proportion of economic spending. Given the choice, we could raise payments for everyone and convince ourselves that was an economic measure. I tell you what, you could raise every payment in this country but it won't get us out of the Sino-American trade war. The only way out of this is economic spending and economic infrastructure. I respect the opposition's point—do it faster and sooner.
Come to Queensland and talk to the Queensland Premier—get the Queensland government to approve the dams that are stacking up. Go out to Hughenden with $180 million ready for a dam, and they will go out and start looking around for a finch! That is the problem we have with Labor. But you don't see it in New South Wales; they're building. You have a coalition state government working with us and getting things moving. You can see cranes in the Sydney skyline that you don't see in Brisbane. If you want to know how this group would act if they had the economic tiller, just look at the GFC, where the money vanished in a year and had very little impact on average Australians.
We've heard from the experts and from my Labor colleagues about the bleak state of the Australian economy. But over in the government's ministerial wing all you hear is sunshine, lollypops and rainbows everywhere because, according to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, there is nothing to worry about. The best thing the Prime Minister can do is tell us to stop worrying, as if ignoring the facts will make them go away, as if acknowledging the advice of economists will cause an economic downturn. Prime Minister, the cause of an economic downturn in Australia will be your inaction.
The Morrison government has no economic plan. In the 46th Parliament, it has become clear what happens when a government talks about nothing but the previous government for seven years—nothing is what happens. The Morrison government still blames Labor when the economy isn't doing well. This is clearly a political strategy that has worked for them, but it is not an economic plan. Weak growth is the inevitable consequence of a government with a political strategy but no economic plan.
Even with the best advice coming from Treasury, the International Monetary Fund and the Reserve Bank, the Prime Minister chucks his briefing in the wastepaper basket and uses the same old talking points. These are talking points we now know are devoid of any economic plan for Australia, and have been since these guys came to power in 2013. To make it even worse, the outgoing head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics here in Canberra has explained that, by slashing ABS funding by 30 per cent over the last decade, the information we need about the health of our economy will no longer be available. Dr Kalisch has said our economic, labour market and population statistics will be the statistics at risk if there are further cuts to ABS funding over future years. So the Prime Minister, so desperate to keep Australians in the dark about the state of the Australian economy, is trying to make sure we don't even have the high-quality economic data that we need to assess Australian economic growth.
I had the opportunity to question the RBA governor when he appeared before the House Standing Committee on Economics in August. I asked him:
… what levers are available to boost employment and wage growth?
… the options are fairly clear. The first set of options is monetary policy stimulus, which is what we're doing, and, if needed, we're prepared to do more. As we've discussed, our second set of options are fiscal options. And the third set of options, which are my preferred ones, are creating an environment where businesses want to expand and hire people. That's the menu, and it's up to society, through the parliament, to choose from that menu.
'The options are fairly clear,' the Reserve Bank governor said. The first is monetary stimulus. Well, there isn't much more that the Reserve Bank can do when interest rates are below one per cent for the first time in Australian history. These are record lows. The second is fiscal options. We need to invest, Prime Minister. And the third is creating an environment where businesses want to expand and hire people. The Reserve Bank governor even called it a 'menu'. He couldn't have made it any clearer for the Treasurer and Prime Minister.
But, if that isn't clear enough, the Reserve Bank governor went further. He said, 'Increase wages.' The best way to do this is to increase the wages of public servants, one-third of the workforce that governments have direct control over, with flow-on effects for the wages of millions of Australians who haven't had a wage increase for years. The governor has said that infrastructure spending could help the economy. We all know the Morrison government want an imaginary budget surplus before they spend anything on infrastructure.
This Anti-Poverty Week, people on our side of the House have been talking about the life-changing impact that a properly funded Newstart allowance would have on the lives of over 700,000 Australians. But, if we talk about Newstart in purely economic terms, an increase to Newstart would also stimulate the economy. The Reserve Bank governor said it in the hearing in August. KPMG said it last week. The Business Council supports it. Deloitte said over a year ago that raising Newstart would deliver a prosperity dividend of $4 billion to the Australian economy and 12,000 extra jobs.
Clearly, none of these hard economic facts have swayed the Prime Minister to act to save the Australian economy, so I'll end with this: the latest statistics from the ABS show that we have a youth unemployment rate of almost 12 per cent. That's 295,000 young people who are actively searching for work but coming up short. In rural and regional areas, the rate is even higher. In Greece, the rate of youth unemployment is 33.8 per cent, and guess which economy is weaker than Greece, according to the IMF forecasts released last night? Australia. So I call on the government to step up and do its job.
There we go. We've just had a succession of speakers from the other side talking down the Australian economy. I feel for the member for Rankin. The opposition budgetary plan that they brought forward to the last election was wholeheartedly rejected by the Australian public. I'd like to congratulate the Australian public for showing good common sense. They realised that the plan was to bring in taxes on their retirement savings, taking their franked dividend refunds away, to change the super rules and to change negative gearing on their investment properties. There were all these taxes that the opposition were going to bring in. That was their plan.
But what we have actually done is grow the pie. We have grown the economy. We've got over 1.4 million jobs over the last six years. In the figures last August, there were 34,700 more jobs. That's more people in employment. Economic growth figures show 1.4 per cent growth. We have also achieved, as previous speakers have outlined, getting people off income dependence on the government. We have the lowest number of people on income support, by about 200,000. We've grown the pie. Our revenue has increased even in the face of global headwinds.
We are a trading nation. Our biggest trading partner, China, is in the middle of a trade war with one of our biggest investors. Lots of economies are being affected by that, but we have still managed to grow the economic pie. That's not to say that people aren't under mortgage stress; they are. People have big mortgages these days. But we have grown employment. We have got many more people working. Even in my electorate, the small area labour market figures show a reduction in unemployment across the board, and I hope it will continue. A lot of small businesses that depend on mums and dads are going to have mums and dads in our electorate who are getting a tax refund because of our low- and middle-income tax offset.
Most people in my electorate don't earn $90,000. Most of them earn less than that. We have a much lower profile in total income compared to some of the metro electorates. These low- and middle-income tax offsets will be a great help to them. Getting $1,080 in their tax refund will be a big bonus. If both partners are working, that's over $2,000 that they can use to pay off their mortgage or put into other goods and services that they require for their family. I feel sorry for the member for Rankin. He was lumbered with trying to sell $387 billion worth of extra taxes on the economy.
We've also stimulated a lot of the small businesses, which are the biggest employers in my part of the country, with lower tax rates. Businesses with turnover under $50 million, which is just about every business in my electorate, are getting the ability to instantly write off assets of up to $30,000 that they purchased in one year. That will improve their cash flow.
One in five jobs come out of us being a trading nation. International trade grows jobs and grows employment. What have we done over this last 6½ years? We've got free trade agreements with China, Japan, Korea, Peru and Hong Kong, and we're negotiating with the EU. In particular we are still managing—even in the face of the drought—to grow agriculture, which is one of our big earners.
All through this period, we have defied what the other side are trying to get across in their narrative. They're trying to talk the economy down. They're not doing anyone any favours. But we have got the basics right. We have reduced the deficit down to zero this year, ahead of schedule, by increasing our tax takes from multinationals, who are now paying their fair share of tax. We have got many more people earning a wage, and so they're paying tax. And the biggest growth in employment has been in the small-business space, which is usually the engine of local economies in regional Australia. So hearing the other side talk down our achievements— (Time expired)